Photo: welcomia/Shutterstock

Matador Roadtrip Update #3

by Hal Amen Aug 15, 2010
Yet another rendition of the classic San Francisco -> Seattle drive.

BACK IN 2008, Brave New Traveler editor Ian MacKenzie went on a Matador road trip of his own, driving down from Vancouver to “headquarters” in San Francisco.

Despite the reason for our trip (my wife’s cousin’s wedding in SF) having come and gone, we decided to take a page from the Matador annals and follow Ian’s route in reverse. We didn’t make it across the border, but we saw and learned a lot about the forests, vineyards, and vegan leanings of the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s the takeaway:

Wine Country

We got a taste for wine — and particularly wine tastings — in Mendoza, Argentina, last year. So Napa made its way onto the itinerary.

I won’t pretend to know which of the 400+ of the valley’s wineries are worth a go. But I’ve got a great tip for budgeters: Skyline Wilderness Park.

At $15/night for tent sites, this has gotta be the cheapest place to sleep in the town of Napa. It’s only a mile off the main road (Highway 221), southeast of town, but it’s beyond the suburban sprawl.

There’s access to miles of hiking/running trails, and the Mexican grocery and taqueria nearby on Imola Ave. are great keep-it-real alternatives to the 5-star restaurants downtown.

Another sweet resource is the Oxbow Public Market on First St. It has an upscale food court vibe, with lots of local produce and wine. Easy to get a meal there for cheap. Plus they have wifi.


Of course, there’s more to California wine than Napa. We missed the main wine road in Mendocino (Anderson Valley, Highway 128), but I have to include here the one we did hit: Pacific Star Winery.

Right on the coast, a mellow host, and more reasonable tasting fees than in the valley. There’s also a geologic fault running through the property (the Pacific Star Fault).

Redwood Country

Several months ago, Matador co-founder Ross Borden encouraged me to research and write Guide to the Redwood Groves: Where to Find the Tallest Trees on Earth. That led me to read The Wild Trees, and ever since I’ve had big trees on the brain.

Using my piece, and the excellent, I put together a route to visit the best-preserved parks and hike the most-recommended trails.

Of those, here are the two I liked best:

Homestead/Big Tree loop, Humboldt Redwoods SP

This is in Humboldt’s Bull Creek area, which is far from the traffic noise of 101 and the Avenue of the Giants. The relative isolation made this one stand out.

Plus I got to see the Tall Tree — at 363 feet, it’s one of the tallest whose location isn’t a carefully guarded secret.

Find more info on the hike here.

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP

This is just a half-mile loop trail, easily accessible from a parking lot, but the grove was my favorite. Something about the flood-basin soil prevents other trees from growing, so it’s just ferns, redwood sorrel, and some of the widest redwoods in the world.

It was busy when we were there, but within the loop trail are dozens of duff-covered paths, partially obscured, that run through the sorrel. These offered a chance for quieter reflection among the titans.

Find more info on the grove here.

Campgrounds I Liked

Apart from Skyline Wilderness Park mentioned above, there weren’t many standouts. The best of our lot in redwood country was the Richardson Grove RV Park.

If you can get past the spinning cross on their website, tent sites are $22 (good value for the area), and the bathrooms smell like Christmas.

I could see the church pavilion in the center of camp getting a bit rambunctious on Sunday mornings.

Quality Coffeeshops

We racked up plenty more coffeehouse visits on this leg of the journey. It might not be the most “authentic” method for getting to know a place, but the modern freelance travel writer has few options.

Mishka’s Cafe, Davis, CA – Good use of seating space, tons of outlets, all organic. Just don’t sit with your laptop at the front 6 tables — they’re reserved for “traditional” coffeehouse use.

Napa Valley Coffee Roasting, St. Helena, CA – St. Helena is chiller than Napa in all respects. This was a nice place to work.

Di Lusso, Bend, OR – Lots of space and light in this downtown joint. According to the barista, their sandwiches are “rowdy.”

Three Friends Coffeehouse, Portland, OR – We couldn’t go wrong for coffee during our two days in PDX. But this was our favorite.

Victrola Coffee, Seattle, WA – Gourmet beans and a modern, concrete-and-glass aesthetic that fits well downtown. I had trouble with their wifi, though.

Miscellaneous Mention

As aspiring vegans, we were obscenely excited by Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts. It’s worth the wait in line. Thanks to Lauren Quinn for the tip.

Community Connection

Have a great roadtrip story you’d like to tell? Share it in the comments!

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